The negotiations for an ambitious Free Trade Agreement between Britain and India are “well advanced”, United Kingdom’s Foreign Office Minister for South Asia, Lord Tariq Ahmed said in a parliamentary debate in London’s House of Lords. Ahmed added that the next round of FTA talks between New Delhi and London will commence very soon, with his fellow parliamentarians raising India’s ambitious economic profile and New Delhi’s G20 presidency as determinant factors to ensure an FTA deal.
Successive governments led by various Prime Ministers in Britain have asserted in the past that India being one of the world’s biggest economies is central to Britain’s foreign policy.
“It is true that, as we set up and strengthen this relationship, the United Kingdom’s relationship with India is central to U.K. foreign policy,” Ahmad asserted in the House of Lords, repeating Britain’s stance on elevated New Delhi-London ties.
“As one of the world’s biggest and fastest-growing economies, India is a key partner to the UK. We are also looking at lowering non-tariff barriers on medical devices to benefit British exporters, and are well advanced in our negotiations for an ambitious and balanced free trade agreement,” he said.
Ahmad was responding to the debate entitled ‘The Importance of the Relationship Between the United Kingdom and India’ in the House of Lords on Thursday, tabled by British Indian peer Baroness Sandy Verma.
A strong trade deal with India could boost the U.K. economy by billions of pounds over the long term, helping families across the country, he said.
“Cutting red tape and high tariffs could also make it easier and cheaper for UK companies to sell in India, driving growth and supporting jobs,” he added.
Six rounds of FTA talks done so far
The minister said that so far India and the UK have completed six rounds of talks. In a statement of assurance, he said that as a mark of mutual agreement between New Delhi and London, the two sides are assuring that the FTA deal is not rushed but properly thought through.
“I assure them that we are working those through specifically, but it was very much by mutual agreement to ensure that the trade deal signed is not rushed but properly thought through, and that all chapters are discussed in an exhaustive manner so that we reach a deal that is of mutual benefit to both countries and their peoples,” the Minister said.
According to official UK government data, India-U.K. bilateral trade currently stands at around 29.6 billion pounds a year (36.67 billion dollars).
UK-India FTA talks: From Johnson to Sunak via Truss
London and New Delhi formally launched Free Trade Agreement talks in January 2022, when Prime Minister Boris Johnson was at the helm of affairs. The talks began after years of backchannel negotiations between the two sides, The Times reported.
Johnson set Diwali as the deadline for a Free Trade Agreement with India. The initial deadline could not be honoured for unspecified reasons amid political uncertainty with frequent changes in the 10, Downing Street officeholders.
The current Prime Minister Rishi Sunak committed to working “at pace” towards an FTA that does not “sacrifice quality for speed” after the Diwali deadline was missed.
Lord Karan Bilimoria spoke of the need for large prime ministerial delegations to India and called on Prime Minister Sunak to lead one “as soon as possible”.
“Today India has the presidency of the G20. Today India has a vision to become, in the next 25 years, the second-largest economy in the world with a GDP of $32 billion,” he said.
“The Indian express has left the station. It is now the fastest train in the world—the fastest-growing major economy in the world. The UK must be its closest and most trusted friend and partner in the decades ahead,” he added.
(With inputs from agencies)
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